Breaking Through: Effective Instruction & Assessment for Reaching English Learners

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Utilizing new research and field studies, this book provides a whole-school approach to helping English learners achieve academically while they learn English. Discover why ELs learn better when language, literacy, and subject matter are integrated, and learn how to prepare all teachers in a school to meet the needs of this growing student population.

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Chapter 1 - Why We Need a New Way of Schooling Language-Minority Children


Chapter 1

Why We Need a New Way of Schooling Language-Minority Children

Margarita Calderón

In every state of the United States and throughout Canada and Great Britain, school districts have or will soon have English learners. As language-minority student populations grow, either through high birth rates or the arrival of refugee children and other newcomers, all schools must be prepared to teach them. In the past, outcomes for ELs were the responsibility of the lonely ESL teacher or the bilingual school down the road. For ELs in special education, outcomes were the responsibility of special education teachers. However, with the onset of response to intervention, the Common Core State Standards, and special funding—such as the funding schools are receiving from Race to the Top—all mainstream teachers and site administrators are now responsible for all students.

One trend in many schools for providing ESL services has been the use of “push-in” and “pull-out” approaches. However, when ELs are pulled out of class to learn English, they miss out on learning content and opportunities for socialization with mainstream students. When ESL teachers push in, to keep ELs in regular classrooms, the ELs feel singled out and frequently withdraw from meaningful learning. These programs create other problems as well—for example, when schools do not allow quality preparation time for mainstream, ESL, and bilingual teachers to meet and plan their co-teaching. As a result, team-teaching efforts can become disjointed and ineffective, as we see in the following two scenarios.


Chapter 2 - Effective Whole-School Teaching for English Learners


Chapter 2

Effective Whole-School Teaching for English Learners

Robert E. Slavin

One of the fastest-growing groups of students in North American schools consists of students who are learning to speak English. They face serious difficulties in achieving the goals we expect for all, for they must learn literacy, numeracy, science, and social studies just like other students, but they must also become proficient enough in English to benefit from ordinary English instruction.

Not very long ago, the debate about teaching English learners revolved primarily around what their language of instruction should be. Advocates of transitional bilingual education argued that children should be taught to read in their native language and transitioned to English-only instruction gradually. Others argued for structured immersion, according to which ELs were taught only in English, with appropriate supports. Dual-language programs have long been popular in theory but difficult to put into practice. Politically, a reaction against bilingual education has greatly reduced the likelihood that ELs will receive much if any native language instruction. In any case, research has found few differences in English outcomes for Spanish-dominant ELs taught initially in Spanish or in English (Slavin, Madden, Calderón, Chamberlain, & Hennessy, 2011).


Chapter 3 - Research on English Learner Instruction


Chapter 3

Research on English Learner Instruction

Claude Goldenberg

The number of professional publications aimed at improving instruction for English learners has exploded since the early 2000s. Dozens of books, articles, and reports were published in the space of a few years following the appearance of two major research reviews in 2006 (August & Shanahan, 2006; Genesee, Lindholm-Leary, Saunders, & Christian, 2006). According to one count, nearly fifteen books on the topic of English learning were published in 2010 alone (Gold, 2010), most aimed at professional audiences.1

Yet there is surprisingly little research on common practices and recommendations for practice with ELs. This absence of adequate research applies to all areas, including promoting English language development and instruction in content areas such as math and history. In 2006, Genesee et al. commented that there is “a dearth of empirical research on instructional strategies or approaches to teaching content” for ELs (p. 190). Janzen (2008) echoed the same theme in a subsequent review of research on content area instruction for ELs. Rather than providing a list of instructional practices specifically validated by research as effective with ELs—which would be a very short list—I instead identify four important principles based in the research. These are:


Chapter 4 - Whole-School Approaches to Academic Language Proficiency Among English Learners


Chapter 4

Whole-School Approaches to Academic Language Proficiency Among English Learners

Jim Cummins

The construct of cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP) was introduced (Cummins, 1979) to draw educators' attention to the timelines and challenges that second-language learners encounter as they attempt to catch up to their peers in academic aspects of the school language. CALP refers to students' ability to understand and express, in both oral and written modes, concepts and ideas that are relevant to success in school. Academic language draws on low-frequency (less-often used) vocabulary and specific discourse and grammatical structures (for example, passive voice) that reflect the increasing conceptual and linguistic complexity of subject matter content taught beyond the primary grades. CALP was contrasted with basic interpersonal communicative skills (BICS), which refer to conversational fluency in a language. Conversational language typically relies on high-frequency vocabulary and relatively common grammatical and discourse structures. The terms conversational fluency and academic language proficiency are used interchangeably with BICS and CALP in the remainder of this chapter.


Chapter 5 - Educating English Learners: An Integrated Perspective


Chapter 5

Educating English Learners: An Integrated Perspective

Sarah Capitelli, Laura Alvarez, and Guadalupe Valdés

As the number of English learners grows across North America, questions about the best ways to meet their language and learning needs continue to arise. What are the most effective teaching strategies when working with ELs? What do language proficiency assessments tell us—and not tell us—about an EL's language development? How do we make grade-level content accessible to beginning and intermediate proficiency ELs? What are the most advantageous learning conditions for developing a second language, and if these learning conditions are not available, is it possible to modify conditions to provide ELs with a more advantageous learning environment? These questions, among others, illustrate how complex and diverse the challenge of educating EL students is and demonstrate how much work remains to better meet the complex needs of this population of students.


Chapter 6 - Effective Teaching for ELs and All Students: Vocabulary, Reading, and Writing Within All Subjects


Chapter 6

Effective Teaching for ELs and All Students: Vocabulary, Reading, and Writing Within All Subjects

Liliana Minaya-Rowe

The current trend of globalization and the necessity to compete in a “flattened” world within an increasingly integrated world economic system has prompted a profound shift in education (Friedman, 2005). To meet these needs, schools in North America are broadening their goals to encompass equity, access, and the need to help students become critical thinkers and compete effectively in the global marketplace (Darling-Hammond, 2010).

School improvement is mainly concerned about the effectiveness of teachers and schools and how they affect student outcomes. Administrators play an important role in this change process, which requires both leadership skills and academic knowledge of content. Their role in school improvement and reform efforts includes managing the process, providing professional development resources, and developing innovative solutions to the day-to-day problems of implementing change (DuFour & Marzano, 2011).


Chapter 7 - Teaching Science with English Language and Literacy


Chapter 7

Teaching Science With English Language and Literacy

Okhee Lee

The role of teachers in ensuring that all students achieve high academic standards is becoming ever more urgent and complex as a result of the growing diversity of the student population in North America, persistent achievement gaps among demographic subgroups, and the increasing demands of high-stakes testing and accountability policies across content areas for all students. Teachers of English learners face the additional challenge of helping their students develop oral and written proficiency in English while they are simultaneously learning academic content and processes (Lee, Penfield, & Buxton, in press; Wong Fillmore & Snow, 2002). Effective instruction is required regardless of whether ELs are placed in mainstream classrooms or in English for speakers of other languages (ESOL), English as a second language, or bilingual classrooms.

Research on instructional interventions to simultaneously promote science and English language and literacy has begun to emerge. This chapter addresses the state of the research on integration of science and English proficiency with ELs and describes new developments in the field fueled by emerging funding opportunities. The chapter concludes with implications for the future with regard to classroom practices, research agenda, and educational policies.


Chapter 8 - Linking Literacy to Content in Preschool Math, Science, and Social Science


Chapter 8

Linking Literacy to Content in Preschool Math, Science, and Social Science

Maria N. Trejo

Researchers affirm that children who attend high-quality early care and education programs are better prepared for kindergarten, have stronger language skills in the first years of elementary school, and are far less likely to repeat a grade or drop out of school (Copple & Bredekamp, 2009). ELs and Spanish-speaking children tend to show greater gains than any other comparable group of low-income children (Ballantyne, Sanderman, & McLaughlin, 2008). But dual-language learners (or ELs) and Spanish-speaking children are less likely to attend preschool, despite the added benefits that it promises for these groups.

Surveys conducted reveal that although many states have universal preK as a goal, they struggle to provide services for all eligible children:

• The RAND Corporation (Karoly, 2009) reported that California state-subsidized early learning programs were serving fewer than half of eligible three- and four-year-olds.


Chapter 9 - Common Instructional Assessment for English Learners: A Whole-School Effort


Chapter 9

Common Instructional Assessment for English Learners: A Whole-School Effort

Margo Gottlieb

Schoolwide assessment practices designed with English learners in mind help create a school culture that embraces linguistic and cultural diversity. To create such a successful school, there must exist a decision-making process built around reliable, valid, and fair information. Initiating and sustaining the process of gathering, analyzing, interpreting, and reporting data takes dedicated teachers and administrators. Underlying this work is the fundamental principle that schools, regardless of their location or district policy, must support the students' primary language and respect the cultural identities of the surrounding community (Miramontes, Nadeau, & Commins, 2011).

This chapter is built on the premise that common instructional assessment for English learners yields immeasurable benefits for multiple stakeholders, most importantly for students and teachers, when it is a whole-school effort. First we define common instructional assessment from a culturally responsive education perspective; then we distinguish it from other forms and explore the research roots that support assessment at the classroom level. Next, we discuss new developments in education that have contributed to having common instructional assessment serve as a counterbalance to high-stakes accountability testing. Finally, we look toward the future to envision how schools might enact common instructional assessment that highlights what English learners can do.


Chapter 10 - Response to Intervention for English Learners


Chapter 10

Response to Intervention for English Learners

Alba A. Ortiz

English learners experience widespread academic failure, including higher rates of retention and social promotion (Center for Policy Studies, Education Research, and Community Development [CPSER], 2011), and they are twice as likely as their English-proficient peers to be reading below grade level (National Center for Educational Statistics [NCES], 2005). This is not surprising given that, by definition, ELs have limited proficiency in English; testing them in a language they have not yet mastered results in low test scores. As straightforward as this may seem, though, general education teachers are often unable to distinguish students whose low academic performance is an artifact of limited English proficiency from those whose difficulties are associated with disabilities (Ortiz, 1997, 2002).

Bilingual education teachers have specialized expertise regarding second-language acquisition and are trained to provide culturally responsive native language and ESL instruction. They should be in a better position to accurately identify ELs whose academic struggles indicate the presence of disabilities. However, three interrelated studies of ELs who were identified as also having reading-related learning disabilities (Ortiz et al., 2012) suggest that this is not necessarily the case. Researchers examined the characteristics of ELs identified as students with reading-related disabilities by the participating district and found that available data supported a learning disability (LD) classification for only ten of forty-four students. These findings raise serious questions about the appropriateness of referrals of ELs to special education by bilingual education teachers.


Chapter 11 - Leadership Matters for Learning English and Learning in English


Chapter 11

Leadership Matters for Learning English and Learning in English

Elena Izquierdo

The fastest-growing population in U.S. schools consists of students who are limited in their English proficiency and struggling with academic content. Districts everywhere are faced with a demographic explosion of English learners—students who are not proficient in English and require instructional support to fully access academic content in English (Francis, Rivera, Lesaux, Kieffer, & Rivera, 2006). Most of these districts are in states that traditionally have had ELs in their school communities, but other states are experiencing this rapid and large demographic shift for the first time (Lazarín, 2006).

With the advent of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2002, the stakes have risen significantly. NCLB requires districts and states to appropriately include ELs in state assessments. It is evident that EL performance rates are significantly behind those of their English-speaking counterparts, and whether we look at student performance rates through state assessment data or through the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), “the nation's report card,” it is clear that ELs are the subgroup that is the furthest behind (Hemphill & Vanneman, 2011).


Chapter 12 - Building Communities of Practice in Linguistically and Culturally Diverse School Districts


Chapter 12

Building Communities of Practice in Linguistically and Culturally Diverse School Districts

Barbara D. Acosta, Kristina Anstrom, and Charlene Rivera

Educators are increasingly turning to the idea of communities of practice as a promising approach for implementing change (Tackett & Cator, 2011). What does this mean for school districts whose student populations are linguistically and culturally diverse? How can educators help ensure that English learners—students who are still learning English, as well as those who are fluent in English and speak another language at home—are welcomed into the educational community, provided the right combination of support and challenge, and treated equitably? What if all educators in a district expected the same wonderful outcomes for English learners as they envision for their own children? What can be done to support communities of practice as they pursue this vision?

There is a growing recognition that to close the achievement gap educators need not only tools, programs, and strategies, but also a forum for education researchers and practitioners to share information with each other (Tackett & Cator, 2011). Communities of practice can help optimize scarce resources, reawaken a sense of cooperation and shared aims, and enhance learning for adults and children (DuFour, DuFour, Eaker, & Many, 2010). In addition, communities of practice need guidance to understand the complexities of working with students who are linguistically and culturally diverse, and to transform educational programs from pervasive “deficit” models toward an enriched, academically challenging approach for ELs.


Chapter 13 - Implementing the Change


Chapter 13

Implementing the Change

Margarita Calderón and Joel Gómez

Schools cannot move forward toward transformation without new, profound personal learning and new ways to accomplish that learning. Personal and professional development in EL instruction has mainly been directed toward ESL and designated sheltered instruction teachers through training of trainers workshops. Dual-language and bilingual teachers may have fewer opportunities, and general education teachers probably have less opportunities, for participating in comprehensive PD on teaching and learning for ELs.

The intent of this book is to build on the schools’ successes and address their gaps by providing a road map. Coherence and alignment between what already exists and what needs to be developed ensures effective implementation, continuous professional learning, and positive student outcomes. The implementation of the recommendations in this book would achieve compliance. It would also provide an opportunity to establish a more comprehensive approach to improve educational outcomes. Our recommendations are nested in evidence-based studies and grounded on observations and experiences with educational entities across the United States and in other countries.



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